Obama 88 248.
(photo credit: AP)
Surveying the more than one million Americans of every state and background waiting in the cold to witness Tuesday's inauguration, Barack Obama recalled that the path that had led the son of an African man to the White House had been shaped by the diverse immigrants who came before him.
"For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life," he said of the earlier generations who built America. "For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth."
His words reminded many Jews who listened of their own American journey and the example Obama provided for all minorities who aspire to integration in America.
His own White House senior advisor, David Axelrod, said as much when he spoke at the Jewish inaugural reception, sponsored by several major Jewish organizations, the day before the inauguration.
Axelrod, who had a prominent campaign role as chief strategist but took a lower profile when it came to his Jewish background, talked about Obama's achievement as "another step in the great American journey," one his own father and grandparents made when they fled Bessarabia after their home was destroyed in a pogrom.
"They weren't just looking for a place of safety, they were looking for a place of promise and opportunity," he said. "American was that beacon."
He said he wished they were there to see that not only Obama had been elected to the White House, "but that their son will be 20 feet from the Oval Office, and have a chief of staff named Rahm Emanuel, the son of an Israeli immigrant."
Another reception guest, actor Bryan Greenberg, also connected his personal history to the event at hand, explaining that he came to the reception to get a better sense of how the new administration will deal with the Jewish community and Jewish issues.
Of those, he said "obviously Israel's number one," citing his own grandparents' escape from Germany and his trip to the Jewish state, which showed him "how important it is to have a place carved out, after being shunted from place to place for thousands of years."
Greenberg, who has dealt with Jewish themes in his roles, particularly in the movie Prime where he dates a non-Jewish character played by Uma Thurman to the disapproval of his mother, played by Meryl Streep, said he took a formative trip to Israel as a teenager with United Synagogue Youth. That's where he met Eric Lynn, who worked on Jewish outreach for the Obama campaign and accompanied Axelrod to the reception.
Greenberg's fellow thespian Debra Winger, a longtime supporter of Jewish causes and of Obama, spoke shortly before Axelrod, expressing the desire that "all our prayers are answered."
Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman was slightly demure in her remarks, which she made a night earlier, Sunday, to an overflow crowd at a DC nightclub, an event held in part to honor the role played by her "Great Schlep" video, which urged Jewish Obama supporters to travel to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for the Democratic candidate.
She criticized "old Jews who have old fears," and declared that those concerns were no longer relevant in today's America.
(She also joked that Obama wouldn't need the adjustment period some people think he'll need to get used to his new office, saying, "Black men are already used to being followed around by security guards.")
Whether or not the Great Schlep contributed to the results, Florida Jews voted overwhelming for Obama and helped deliver the state that had cost the Democratic Party the presidency in 2000.
Axelrod noted his "enormous sense of pride and satisfaction and gratitude" when the election night exit polls came in and showed that Jews had supported the Democratic candidate in higher numbers than in recent years, defying those who predicted he would turn off members of the community.
"You were all shareholders," Axelrod told the crowd. "You're going to be our partners as we move forward and try to fulfill the commitments we have made."